Looking Forward, Looking Inward

A new exhibition explores age, dreams and inevitability.

poster for Miwa Yanagi

Miwa Yanagi "My Grandmothers"

at Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
in the Ebisu, Daikanyama area
This event has ended - (2009-03-07 - 2009-05-10)

In Reviews by Rebecca Milner 2009-04-08

How do you picture yourself, your life in fifty years? Artist Miwa Yanagi posed this question to a number of young women. Based on their responses and extensive interviews, Yanagi then crafted portraits of these subjects as old women, fifty years in the future. The resulting series of full-color photographs looks forward as much as it looks inward, visualizing and documenting each individual’s projected future self-image from a fixed point in time, the present. This is the “My Grandmothers” series, an ongoing project that Yanagi first began in 1999 and one that is displayed for the first time in its entirety at the Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum. Three new portraits—’Ariko’, ‘Mitsue’, and ‘Moeha’—also make their public debut.
Yanagi Miwa, 'MOEHA' (2009)
Each of the twenty-six photos represents a world of its own, painstakingly recreated in exquisite detail—both in real life and on the computer screen. From the shock of red hair on ‘Yuka’, the first portrait that greets audiences at the entrance, riding in a motorcycle sidecar with her young lover across the Golden Gate Bridge, it would seem that these future visions are primarily fantastical. Yet as the exhibition unfolds across two rooms a number of future possibilities are explored. There is also ‘Mitsue’, the image of the old crone receding back into the woods, and ‘Sachiko’, the well-groomed elderly lady looking with mixed-emotions out the window of an airplane.

Yanagi has stated in interviews that the “My Grandmothers” series does not reflect her subjects’ ideals.1 Rather the images are the result of a thorough investigation into each individual’s perceived life trajectory approached through lengthy discussions between subject and artist. This close communication extends as well to the details of the portraits themselves, from make-up to gestures to props. Accompanying each photo is a short text, sometimes poetic, sometimes straightforward, gleaned by the photographer from her interviews with the subjects.

Miwa Yanagi, 'YUKA' (2000)The images themselves vary from the simple, a lone woman asleep on a futon under a red sheet; to the complicated, a backdrop of a non- (or not yet?) existent amusement park. There is a stark apocalyptic vision of the future, expressed by ‘Mie’, and a timeless one, as imagined by ‘Ryuen’, one of the three male subjects in the series. Yet many carry suggestions of childhoods past: hints of Disney and Miyazaki movies, the recurring image of the lone, old woman as a witch—a familiar archetype from myths and fairy tales. Fairy tales and the juxtaposition of youth and old age are recurring threads in Yanagi’s work; “My Grandmothers” looks at these themes from an angle that is both in contrast and complementary to her previous and simultaneous works, the other side of the looking glass perhaps.

Yanagi will represent Japan at the 53rd Venice Biennale later this year, where she will invite audiences to enter into a world where youth and age are compressed through the new work ‘Windswept Women: The Old Girl’s Troupe.’ This installation featuring life-sized photographs will take place within a black tent reminiscent of her “Suna Onna” work. Meanwhile, “My Grandmothers” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum—part new, part ten-year retrospective—offers those of us stuck in Tokyo a chance to catch up with one of Japan’s fastest rising international art stars.


1 Harumi Niwa, Yanagi Miwa, My Grandmothers: The Resonance of Memory (March 24, 2009) Tankosha

Rebecca Milner

Rebecca Milner. Born in San Diego, California in 1980, Rebecca studied modern English, French, and Spanish literature at Stanford University. She now works as a freelance fashion writer and trend scout, as well as doing occasional work as an interpreter, English teacher, and bar hostess. Happily infatuated with the mundane, she relishes making coffee, reading the newspaper, grocery shopping, and riding her bicycle. She is obsessed with all things urban, is an ambitious collector of magazines, makes terrible pottery, prefers graffiti to commissioned sculptures, has an unusual affinity for typefaces, and totally digs performance art. » See other writings

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